Let there be songs to fill the air
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A line from the Grateful Dead's "Ripple" sounds particularly appropriate for music fans and music makers, stuck mostly with streaming the past few months: "Let there be songs to fill the air."
And in a few spots around the area, the songs have started.
As the Finger Lakes makes its way through the state’s phased process of emerging from lockdown, venues that host live music are taking stock of what they can realistically do and how — and when. Requirements for social distancing during the novel coronavirus pandemic make planning difficult, especially for small venues with tight quarters, translating to venues having to be creative about the use of space, with most not booking anybody until at least Phase 4 of the reopening. This region just last week entered the third phase.
For some area venues that have large outdoor spaces to work with, though, the time for waiting is over, and a handful of outdoor shows have gotten underway.
In Canandaigua, Roseland Waterpark launched a Drive-In Concert Series this past weekend, hosting Zac Brown Tribute Band on Saturday and Peacemaker on Sunday, with patrons directed to stay in or immediately in front of their vehicles while staying six feet apart from others and wearing a mask if they had to leave the vicinity of their vehicles. Similarly, Lincoln Hill Farms hosted local musicians Brian Ayers and Steve Nelson on the outdoor stage at the farm off Route 247 on Sunday, with plenty of space to set up lawn chairs and sit apart and with ample hand sanitizer on the premises. Owner Brian Mastrosimone recently told Messenger Post Media he's spent close to $10,000 to boost sanitation around the farm with portable sinks, sanitizer stations and the like.
Among the first area venues to start getting the music going was Fanatics Pub & Pizza, a tavern in Lima, Livingston County, that’s known for booking blues and rock acts on both a local and national scale. Fanatics leases the parking lot by the bar, a lot that used to primarily serve a now-closed grocery store — and since early June has hosted a drive-in concert series in that lot, with vehicles parked in every other space and the people set up in the space by their car. It started out June 2 with local blues-rock band Steve Grills and the Roadmasters and has continued since, with bigger-name shows Saturday and Tuesday evenings along with free shows on Sunday afternoons.
When touring artists canceled their 2020 dates, that meant a whole fleet of shows canceled for Fanatics. Owner Jim Shelly, however, had a friend associated with a New Hampshire club (the Tupelo Music Hall in Derry) that was planning drive-in shows, and he figured he could do the same at his venue. He developed a site plan — staggered parking (with a resulting capacity for 39 vehicles), attendees calling the venue from their seats for food orders, and the like — and says he ran it by the Health Department, sheriff’s office, and village, town and county officials.
He says he received no pushback — “They said as long as you have the parking guidelines and you do the social distancing,” it was okay. And so: “As soon as I had permission I was ready,” Shelly said. “I put together a stage and started putting together some ads.” And booking the shows, from people either local like Grills or not far off — like this past Sunday’s act, New York City-based blues rocker Popa Chubby — who obviously weren’t touring.
“The only reason I get these guys — they’re out for every show in the (foreseeable) future,” Shelly said. “They’re able to come in, for less money, and still work.”
It’s been a hit.
“People are loving it,” Shelly said. “I’m not getting any negative (feedback) at all for anything.”
“It’s great to be here. It’s great to be anywhere!” Popa Chubby said from the outdoor stage Saturday, before launching into a two-hour set of his own songs, blues classics like B.B. King's “The Thrill is Gone” and bluesified versions of songs like Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” Bill Withers' "Lean On Me" and even “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
This year is Popa’s 30th anniversary as a performer, he noted: “I had a big year planned, and all of a sudden everything was over.” Until this past weekend, when he had drive-in shows at the Tupelo venue in New Hampshire and at Fanatics. It’s a stripped-down arrangement — just Popa, his voice and guitar, and backing tracks he recorded at home.
“I thought, man, I’m down with that,” he said from the stage about hearing of the drive-in plans. “I get to be out in the sun and get my rays!” More seriously, he urged his audience to do what it takes to stay safe: “When I’m back here next year, I want you all to be here.”
Fanatics opens the lot 45 minutes prior to show time; attendees call in advance to reserve a space — and at least the first three shows, including Popa Chubby, were sold out, Shelly said — with admission ranging from $50 to $100 per vehicle for the Tuesday and Saturday shows. Shelly has the drive-in shows booked through early August, including a set Tuesday (June 16) featuring Johnny Winter guitarist Paul Nelson at 6:30 p.m., at a $75/car admission. Upcoming shows through the end of June include Johnny Rawls (June 20, 6 p.m., $75), Hanna & The Blue Hearts (June 23, 6:30 p.m., $50); Gary Hoey (June 27, 6 p.m., $75); and Gabe Stillman (June 30, 6:30 p.m., $50). Upcoming free Sunday shows (1-3 p.m.) include Tongue Theory on June 21 and Meg Williams on June 28. A full schedule is at fanaticspub.com/events; tickets can be purchased at 585-624-2080.
Fanatics is also hosting the annual Lima Crossroads Blues Festival each summer, which this year is on for July 30 through Aug. 2 with such acts as Cinnamon Jones, Freight Train, Johnny Rawls and Vinyl Orange Ottoman among the performers tentatively listed. “Right now we’re planning on doing it — we had to scale it down a little,” Shelly said. More information on that festival is at limabluesfest.com.
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FRONT-ROW SEAT is a column that showcases the area’s art, music, theater, film and general all-around creative scene. If you’re a musician with an upcoming live or online performance or album release; or if you have any information in the arts/entertainment sphere to report, please send your information to L. David Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.